INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The County Commission hired Michael Zito, the assistant county administrator, as interim county administrator Tuesday, rejecting former Commissioner Peter O’Bryan’s bid for the job.
The commission voted unanimously to give Zito the temporary job as it searches for a permanent replacement for County Administrator Jason Brown, who spannnounced Oct. 21 he would step down at the end of the year.
In a Nov. 1 meeting, O’Bryan offered to delspany his retirement spannd tspanke over as interim while the county conducted its search. That announcement came as a surprise, and Commissioner Joseph Flescher tabled the discussion until Tuesday to allow newly elected Commissioner Deryl Loar, who was sworn in Tuesday to succeed O’Bryan, to vote on the matter, he said.
O’Bryan chose not to run for reelection in November.
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“I can think of no greater applicant for an interim status [than] the deputy county administrator, Michael Zito,” Flescher said Tuesday. “I think we need not look any further.”
A 20-year county employee
Zito, 58, has worked for the county for more thspann 20 yespanrs, first serving as attorney for the Sheriff’s Office and assistant county attorney before becoming assistant county administrator under Joe Baird in 2005.
Zito didn’t know the commission would choose him for the interim spot, he said, but because of his experience — and his position next in line — it didn’t necessarily come as a surprise.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” Zito said after the meeting. “Certainly my focus is not that of a traditional administrator at this point, because it’s intertwined with assisting the commission in building that bridge towards the next leader.”
The commission also decided unanimously to raise Zito’s pay about $30,000 while he fills the spot. His salary now matches Brown’s salary of $211,871.
While the vote was unanimous, discussion initially was split. Commissioners Susan Adams, Joe Earman and Laura Moss reiterated concerns about keeping the application pool as open as possible.
Adams said she felt choosing an interim hire from the inside — someone who could be perceived as an eventual permanent replacement — might deter outside candidates from applying.
“It’s very important to me that that process remain neutral,” Adams said. “I am not going to support anyone for interim if they are also going to be seeking the administrator position.”
Zito told the commission he would not apply.
“I completely understand her position there, because when you have what appears to be an heir apparent, it chills the application process,” Zito said later. “Qualified candidates may not engage the process because they feel it’s a foregone conclusion.”
O’Bryan’s planned retirement Monday was part of his reasoning for throwing his hat in the ring, he said previously. He felt his imminent retirement would have signaled to outside candidates that he was not in line to take over.
“That’s where I thought my filling in for the interim would alleviate that concern,” he said.
Did commissioners even discuss O’Bryan’?
The commission didn’t address O’Bryan’s bid Tuesday. Going into the meeting, O’Bryan said, he wasn’t sure whether the commission was still considering him.
Plus, it was logical the commission would consider Zito, he said.
“I would say I might have had a pulse — probably not a real strong one,” he joked. “I wasn’t quite flatlined yet. But the board made their decision, and that’s fine.”
The commission has authorized up to $35,000 for its search, including hiring an executive recruiter to identify candidates.
In the meeting, Flescher said he hoped the commission would still consider Zito as a permanent candidate — but only if it comes down to that.
“It wasn’t in any way trying to make him the permanent solution,” Flescher said later. “If we don’t find anybody on this massive search, which I don’t feel is going to happen … We have to find the right lead for the part. And if we don’t, we have a perfectly good working lead here.”
Asked whether he would consider the permanent spot if the county doesn’t hire anyone after five months, Zito said he doubted it would come to that.
“I know this county is going to be a very attractive pursuit for many qualified professionals,” he said.